Louisiana’s attorney general and House of Representatives speaker last week filed a counterclaim against Gov. John Bel Edwards, as the legal battle over the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions began in earnest.
Edwards on Monday took legal action against the Legislature and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, asking the 19th Judicial District Court to quash a petition signed by most House Republicans purporting to suspend the governor’s public health emergency declaration for seven days.
While the various mandates Edwards has imposed since March meant to control the spread of the new coronavirus initially had broad bipartisan support, Republicans in recent months have objected to the continuation of those emergency measures and their lack of input into those decisions.
Attorney General Jeff Landry filed the response on Schexnayder’s behalf.
“The Governor not only rejected attempts by one of his co-equal branches of government to provide input and oversight, but he also ignored the checks and balances that underpin our government,” Landry said in a prepared statement. “He then filed a lawsuit in an attempt to gain extraordinary powers unfounded in law.”
Edwards argues the statute that allows either chamber of the Legislature to suspend a public health emergency is unconstitutional. Limiting the governor’s emergency authority has the effect of legislation, which one body cannot do alone, the administration argues.
Even if the statute is constitutional, Edwards says, the House members didn’t properly consult with state public health experts as the law requires. The fact that the petition only calls for a seven-day suspension indicates the goal was political and not motivated by evidence that the public health emergency had ended, he argues.
But Schexnayder and the attorney general’s office counter that the governor’s orders effectively have been making law, violating the separation of powers under the constitution. For only one chamber to exercise oversight over the executive branch is not a foreign concept, the counterclaim adds.
The statute says the governor “shall” issue a proclamation ending the order upon receipt of the petition. So the action is not discretionary, and refusing to do so has caused “confusion and disruption” in the state.
Furthermore, they say that while the law requires consultation with the state health department, it does not require agreement. They say lawmakers have been consulting with health officials throughout the pandemic through meetings, calls and regular reports.
The AG’s filing contends the suspension is effective upon receipt by the governor. Nevertheless, they want the court to direct Edwards to issue a proclamation as directed.
A date for a hearing has not been set.